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(SNO) – One wonders what might have happened had Saint Lucia been able to supply a home venue – and a boisterous partisan crowd – for week 2 of the Concacaf Nations League.
In the event, with Saint Lucia’s two FIFA-certified stadia unavailable, the national men’s team’s ‘home’ game against Haiti was played in front of a largely pro-Haitian crowd at the Stade Pierre Aliker in Fort de France, Martinique.
The first half was also played under a deluge that left the pitch soaked, and Saint Lucia made three changes from the team that beat Antigua and Barbuda in the opening matchday several weeks ago in St John’s. In goal was 19-year old Vino Barclett, whilst Lester Joseph, Alvinus Myers, and Melanius Mullarkey were in the starting outfield, with captain Zaine Pierre, Kurt Frederick, Pernal Williams, Otev Lawrence, Andrus Remy, Malik St Prix, and Melvin Doxilly.
Initially, Saint Lucia was able to stave off the tempered Haitians, several of whom play in the United States. But an unmarked Soni Mustivar was the beneficiary in the 13th minute, as Derrick Etienne of the New York Red Bulls cut it back for his 28-year-old teammate, who plays with Neftchi Baku in the Azerbaijan Premier League. 20 minutes later, Cibao FC (Liga Dominicana de Fútbol) winger Charles Hérold Jr doubled the advantage, thanks to an assist from New England Revolution midfielder, Zachary Heriveux. It looked as if the deluge above might be matched by one on the pitch.
Haiti, after all, had once served Saint Lucia a 7-1 thrashing, one of the national team’s worst defeats ever.
But after the second goal, Saint Lucia began to assert themselves. Pernal Williams, in particular, translated his typically passionate approach to the game and channelled it into functioning as the point of the Saint Lucian attack. The 27-year-old, one of the veterans on the Saint Lucian team, would naturally feel at home in Martinique, where he plays for one of the top teams in the French overseas department, L’Aiglon du Lamentin.
It came as little surprise, therefore, that Pernal should curl a sweetly weighted left-footed inswinger into the top right corner of the Haitian goal. The shot was impossible for the Haitian custodian to decipher, and Saint Lucia had halved the deficit with two minutes to go to the half. Despite having taken just two shots (to 10 for Haiti) and just one on goal, Saint Lucia had the momentum going into the half.
That translated in the second period in terms of effort and application, but not so much as far as creativity and guile were concerned. Saint Lucia had much more of the ball in the second than they did in the first, but played mainly long balls into the attacking third. More often than not, when the ball did find a Saint Lucian attacker, the result was a rushed shot, rather than finding a teammate with perhaps a better angle. Two half-decent opportunities went abegging as Saint Lucia chased the game.
Still, all in all, Saint Lucia can hold their heads high after this fixture. They gave one of the top teams in the Caribbean a tough run, and had them guessing and holding on for the whistle. This, despite the challenges posed by a local furore over selection policies, the lack of international or even major-league experience to draw on, and of course the fact that this ‘home’ game ended up being played on neutral ground.
Saint Lucia’s Gold Cup dreams are nowhere near dead, yet. The national team plays the Cayman Islands in November, in what ought to be an eminently winnable fixture.